Making your luck
JUNE 15, 2011
Funny how things work out. John Button was making his way towards the airport terminal at Nice last week when a large bird dumped on his white jacket.
"I was the only person around for what seemed like miles and suddenly - wallop! I think it must have been waiting for me. I don't know what this bird had been eating but it looked like lots of berries and things. It was a right mess. That's supposed to bring good luck, isn't it? We'll see."
Button Senior told me this in the back of a badly-sprung Montreal taxi as we wallowed and bounced our way from P E Trudeau airport to Downtown. Naturally, we discussed the previous race and how Jenson's Monaco Grand Prix had been compromised by the red flag. "Funny how these things go," said John. "I think Jense might have won that - I suppose I would say that, wouldn't I? Will he win this weekend? You just can't say at the moment. You never know what might happen, do you?"
True. But not even in a moment of massive enthusiasm fired by a glass or two of his favourite Merlot would John have predicted that his boy would make five pit stops, receive a drive-through, collide with his team-mate, run in 21st place with less than half of the Canadian Grand Prix to go - and win it on the last lap. Writing that in a film script would have you consigned to the Bahrain GP Memorial Home for the Terminally Naive.
The following day, Sebastian Vettel was playing his role as Ambassador for Infiniti by taking local journalists and broadcasters for high-speed rides in the very quick G37 Coupe. It was interesting to watch his approach. After a couple of reconnaissance laps of the 1.8-mile Icar track (on the site of the former international Mirabel airport), Vettel had established a racing line - and then seemed to ignore it for much of the time as he threw the car sideways, creating tyre smoke and spectacle for the cameras, and silly grins for his passengers.
An interview session produced the inevitable question about whether or not Vettel thought he was on course to retain the championship; a reasonable conclusion if you take the raw statistic of five wins in the previous six races. Vettel explained that F1 is not like that.
"Yes," he agreed, "I've won five races but it's been very competitive; not as easy as maybe it looks. It only takes the smallest thing to happen and you've lost a position; maybe the race. You do your best, try to do everything right - but anything can happen. I mean, it's incredibly close at the moment."
Prescient words. But, even allowing for such reasonable circumspection, it's a fair bet that Vettel would never have predicted events four days later on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The weekend had started off in a familiar manner when Vettel hit the wall on Friday morning, badly damaged the Red Bull and then carried on in the afternoon as if nothing had happened. Just like Turkey.
It also seemed just like Istanbul Park when Vettel led every lap. Except the last one. Even Seb, for all his composure, must have been quietly impressed by Jenson's sang froid in the face of such massive setbacks in the previous laps. Button was fortunate to get away without serious damage following the collision with his team-mate - which, from where I was sitting, seemed to be more the fault of Hamilton than Button as Lewis drove into a gap that was always going to diminish as Jenson took the racing line.
That race in Montreal summed up Button's demeanour these days. He's relaxed and happy; very content with life and comfortable within McLaren-Mercedes. He's won the championship. If he wins another; fine. If not; his sunny world will keep turning on its axis. Luck? Yes, he had his share on Sunday just as the cards did not fall his way in Monaco.
Vettel was telling journalists at the Infiniti driving day that he may not be deeply superstitious but he does have his little rituals, such as always climbing into his race car from the left-hand side. In the light of what happened to John Button, don't be surprised if you see Vettel seeking out seagulls and deliberately walking under them in Valencia next week. Preferably wearing an immaculate white jacket.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.